Mythical Monday: The Ghosts of the Drish House by Mae Clair

A federal style edifice located in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the Drish House was constructed in 1839 for Dr. John Drish. An affluent physician, Drish moved there with his second wife and his daughter, Katherine, from a previous marriage. Like many old homes, the Drish House is not without its share of legends, a few on the spookier side.  One of the home’s most striking features is a large central tower added in the early 1860s—a tower many claim becomes engulfed by flame in the middle of the night.

An image of the John Drish House By Alabama Department of Education (Alabama Department of Archives and History) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

An image of the John Drish House By Alabama Department of Education (Alabama Department of Archives and History) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

According to legend, a runaway slave once hid in the tower. Eventually forced to reveal himself when thirst and starvation took their toll, he was turned over to his master. A viciously cruel man, the slave owner had him burned to death. To this day, fire plagues the tower as a reminder of his grisly execution. Perhaps it is his ghost sending a message to those who deemed his life of so little value.

Yet another tale involves a set of mysterious candles. Before Mrs. Drish died, she requested the same candles that had been burned at her husband’s funeral service be used at hers. Though many looked for them, they were not discovered until months later. Some believe it is Mrs. Drish’s spirit who lights the missing candles at night in order to illuminate the central tower.

Indeed, Drish family history is not without its share of bizarre and tragic incidents. The first involves Drish’s niece, Helen Whiting, who was a frequent visitor to her uncle’s home. Helen married a man named Fitch, a reportedly jealous sort with a fondness for drink. Employed as a carpenter, he was hired by her uncle to help build the massive staircase in Dr. Drish’s mansion. It was undoubtedly there that Helen first set eyes on the man who would become her husband–and eventually take her life. One day in a fit of rage, Fitch slit Helen’s throat, nearly severing her head from her body. He was later convicted, deemed insane, and locked in an asylum. Some tales say he remained there for the rest of his life, others that he was eventually deemed cured and released.

Around the same time, Katherine’s husband divorced her and sent her back to her family along with their two sons. He feared she, too, was going insane. As a young girl, Katherine had been subject to cruel treatment by her father. She made the mistake of falling for a man who did not meet Drish’s approval. In an effort to discourage the relationship, the doctor locked his daughter in her room for several weeks, allowing her only bread and water. Katherine’s love interest eventually left Tuscaloosa, coerced by her father, and she married a man named W.W. King. The marriage, however, was doomed from the start and with Katherine’s mental state rapidly deteriorating, King dumped her back on her father, and freed himself from the union.

With his niece dead, his daughter disgraced, and his fortune claimed by the hardships of the Civil War, Drish wasted away. He refused to eat and was kept alive through force feeding. He must have regretted his treatment of Katherine, for he made his wife promise she would never send his daughter to an asylum. Mrs. Drish kept the vow, but shuttered Katherine away in her bedroom, sealing the windows and ensuring the door was securely bolted at night. One afternoon, supposedly drunk, Drish leapt from his bed and ran for the staircase. In his stupor, he tripped and plummeted to his death.

His wife lived her remaining years in poverty, eventually perishing in 1884. Shortly before Mrs. Drish died, Katherine’s grown sons returned to the house and removed their mother. Her mental state had grown increasingly fragile over time. I can’t help wondering if her fate might have been different had she been allowed to marry the man of her choice.

Such a sad history. Especially when you consider Dr. Drish and his family weren’t characters in a book, but people who experienced these grim realities. There is no question he left a signature behind. The Drish House has inspired all manner of paranormal research and articles, and was even featured in the first of a series of books by Kathryn Tucker Windham called “13 Alabama Ghosts.”

Worth a shiver, wouldn’t you say?

13 thoughts on “Mythical Monday: The Ghosts of the Drish House by Mae Clair

  1. Absolutely! Gruesome history indeed. I wonder if it’s still inhabited. I’m sure people know about the haunting and am sure nobody will risk investing money in such an evil ridden place. But have you noticed? In most haunted places we speak about women victims or children, mostly.
    Thanks for bringing to attention this haunted place!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are so right about women and children being the victims in these sad histories of the past, Carmen. I think they just naturally did as their parents (especially the fathers) compelled them to do, no matter how horrible their fate.

      I read one story of the Drish House that said Katherine stood on her balcony (after her father had locked her in her room) and watched the man she loved ride away on horseback for the last time. How terribly sad for both of them.

      I think the Drish house served as a residence for a short time after Mrs. Drish’s death, and then afterward went through a series of revamps and remodeling. It was occupied by a school, a warehouse, a church, and an auto wrecking company (not in that order) and also sat vacant for a time. It is now in the care of the Alabama Historical Commission as they strive to preserve it’s history. I imagine it was indeed something in its day!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a tragic catalogue of disasters and such cruelty compounding or even causing them. I think it is hard for us to understand the power family had over young people in the past and the lack of freedom women had in so many ways, even to the point of life or death. Thought provoking post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is tragic…especially that the misfortune spread from one family member to the other. How different things might have been for all of them had Katherine been allowed to marry the man of her choice.

      And the guy that her father chose for her? He turned out to be a gem, didn’t he? Ditching her and then marrying someone else. As from poor Katherine….from what I’ve learned about her, she really did suffer extreme mental illness. At least Drish kept her from an asylum.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. What a sad tale of a beautiful home inhabited by some very unhappy people. No wonder some of them haunt the place… Do you know if anyone other than family ever lived there? I bet if they did, none of them stayed very long! I wouldn’t…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think it was just occupied for a short time as a residence after Mrs. Drish died. With all of those businesses funneling through there, it does seem likely no one wanted to actually live there. I understand Mrs. Drish’s ghost as well as the slave still haunt the house, and who knows how many others? If a building is capable of harboring sadness, this one left a lot of unhappy spirits behind!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh my gosh, I got such chills reading this at the sheer misery humans can heap on one another, diminishing an already fragile mental capacity, deteriorating any hope of happiness. It’s not all Drish’s fault by any means, but he certainly did have a powerful hand in the unhappiness of the women of his family and subsequently their children. And look what little power he actually had over himself! His own decline and unfortunate end didn’t stop the negativity, as his second wife had to live with the miasma of his legacy. Now the house apparently still harbors some of the sorrow, abuse, and rampant emotions felt there over so many years. I liked the name Drish and looked it up. Its primary meaning comes from Anglo-Saxon England. It was a name originally given to a leader, a fierce and powerful person in the tribe. It means dragon!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You said it so well, Flossie! Drish wasn’t entirely at fault for the grief that plagued his family but he certainly contributed to much of it. It’s interesting that his name means “dragon” in Anglo-Saxon. He lived his life like one, but suffered decline at the end.

      It’s also interesting to note that both of his marriages were to wealthy women who brought him prosperity. And yet his second wife (Sarah) died in poverty after all of his (actually her) money was gone.

      As for poor Helen, his niece, I understand Drish loved her a great deal. Fitch apparently cut her throat so deeply he nearly beheaded her. In one account I read it said he was eventually released from the asylum where he’d been incarcerated and went on to become a prominent railroad official. Somehow, I don’t think he would have ever been given the freedom and the chance for a new life if he’d been a woman. Can you imagine what would have happened to poor Helen had the circumstances been reversed?

      Liked by 1 person

      • In a nightmare I could imagine it. She would never be released. The mental institutions back then were so creepy and sinister too. You’re right–he sure did manage to make “good matches” as they say, but how sad for his second wife to have been reduced to poverty. Of course they lost much in the war, and if she were still at home she might have suffered similar financial reverses. Or maybe not. Somehow Drish cast a pall on everyone around him.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. More engaging than any fiction, such histories. The locked room seems to have been a major instrument of control over women in Victorian society, which was in the habit of concealing its more embarrassing facets behind closed doors, whether they were to chambers of the mansion or the mind.
    The challenge for the novelist is to get inside those minds and to try to understand their passive acceptance of fate – born, I suppose, out of conditioning from birth and the lack of any understanding of freedom. A hideous discipline, with hideous results. Nice tale. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with you about the histories, Frederick, and the mindset of the Victorian era. As a reader, it is the time period I am most drawn to, but for all it’s outward sparkle, there was a dark underbelly that permeated codes of conduct, and even society itself. The mindset of characters of that time are definitely intriguing ones to explore. Perhaps that is why I am drawn to these old histories and yet saddened to think they actually existed. Glad you enjoyed the post!

      Liked by 1 person

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